When my kids were young, I would sometimes wonder what I had done wrong when child after child was born into our family with a hefty dose of "strong will." I would longingly observe other families whose children seemed so mellow and easy to please. My kids were "spirited." They were often disobedient. They were constantly testing my patience. It was their way or the highway -- or at least a lot of screaming and other such nonsense if their way was not granted. I began to wonder if strong will was a genetic trait.
One Sunday, I was out in the hallway at church with a particularly fussy Andrew, who was about 3 years old at the time. While he was screaming, a sweet elderly woman came up to me and said, "Your kids are so cute."
I glanced down at my screaming toddler, and wondered if she was talking to the right person.
"They have some spunk," she went on, "which means that they will accomplish great things."
I told her that I hoped she was right, and she confidently assured me that she was. Quite honestly, I was a little stunned at her timing. She had seen me come to church week after week, and watched me struggle with my rambunctious children. She knew that I spent more time walking the halls while trying to keep them quiet than actually sitting in the meetings. I did not understand why she had picked that particular moment, when my patience was shot and my child was screaming, to tell me that my kids were full of potential.
I did understand, however, that she was no ordinary woman. She was a woman whom everybody admired. She had raised five amazing children of her own. She was quiet, but when she spoke, people listened, because she was the personification of wisdom. I wanted to be just like her. And here she stood, telling me that things with my kids, which felt completely overwhelming at that time, would turn out OK. Did she know of the inner struggle that I often had -- wondering why I even attempted church -- wondering what I could do to teach these little ones? I desperately wanted to believe her. But, how could she be so sure? She didn't really know MY kids.
As I walked away and pondered her words, my heart filled with hope. Although I was struggling, I had to believe that she knew something that I didn't know. I think she knew MANY things that I didn't know. And, maybe... just maybe... she was the answer to my prayers -- a sweet assurance that this stage would not last forever, and that my seemingly impossible children had come to me with strong wills because they would NEED them to accomplish great things later in life. I found comfort in that.
I have looked back on this experience many times since then. I have thought about her words as I have struggled through countless difficult stages with my kids. I have thought about them as I have watched difficult stages fade into sweet stages of understanding and growth. I have thought about them as I have witnessed unreasonable children grow into thoughtful and self-motivated teenagers, whose strong wills are now ingrained into their characters in a way that strengthens them and others. There is now no doubt in my mind that this sweet woman knew what she was talking about that day so many years ago. She knew, as I am now learning, that strong will in a child is nothing to fear. It is a BLESSING.
Of course, those children require guidance. They require extra patience. They require strong leaders (parents) who gently, but firmly, remind them that they still have much to learn -- that their way is not always the best way. They require parents who can teach them how to channel that strong will into useful pursuits, which sometimes seems daunting in and of itself.
There have been times in the midst of teaching such a child when I have felt like I was teaching a brick wall. There have been times when I have felt like I was going backwards instead of forwards. There have been times when I have desperately wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream, and times when I have done just that. But there have also been moments when I have felt like I was the student instead of the teacher. There have been moments when I have sat back and watched, in awe of the drive and conviction that is coming from that same child. In those moments, I have seen small glimpses of the greatness that is within them -- the greatness that is still in the process of emerging from its cocoon.
With my oldest child being only 15 years old, I know that I still have much to learn, and years to go until I will see the full outcome of my work. I know that no outcome is guaranteed, despite my efforts. Yet I have come to trust in the words of my elderly friend, whose knowledge and wisdom far exceed my own. They keep me going when times get tough.
Perhaps you can gain strength from her words also. May you rely on them, as I have, when you can't quite see the forest for the trees. May you rely on them when you wonder if the life-altering transformation from caterpillar to butterfly will ever occur. May you lean on them when your patience is continually tested to the very extreme, and when you are fairly confident that one more day of this frustration will break you.
Trust my wise elderly friend. She knows.